Charon (Part 3: Asphodel)

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Date Unknown.

Everything changed.

Burning, surging forth, the wave blasted outwards as fast as it could under its own laws; the fastest speed, the speed of light. A new energy – a force, unrivalled – washed through the strings of spacetime, strumming a cacophonous melody as it set about its work.

Enforcing its laws, the new laws; the laws of logic, becoming laws of reality.

In the grand epicentre of the scene, sat the cause of it all. In the centre, sat the origin of the force. In the centre, the absolute centre of the universe, around which the new world revolved, sat the architect, the prison, the keep and the keeper;

In the centre of it all, sat the small, ellipsoidal lock.

With every moment that lapsed, the wave of the new world rewrote existence as it confined the emperor of the old to their new, eternal home. Every atom in the sky above and every molecule in the bricks below were scrubbed, purified and cleansed of the tainting aura of the old one; every second, joule and ounce of it were captured and imprisoned, replaced with the laws of the new one. Even now, at its smallest size, the sky of the new world blazed with the insignia of the architect. Even now, the new banner – of hope, freedom from chaos, imprisonment of Apakht – flew proudly above, heralding the end of the darkest times.

And of all the beings, there were four to see it first.

As the wave washed over them, the four bathed in the glory of the new world. Though they would forever be anchored to the old, serving as the guardians of hell’s gate, they still felt the impact of their labours. Spaced evenly around the gemstone, arms outstretched towards their creation, they watched the new world come together with new eyes; heard the fury of the old world’s screams with new ears; tasted and smelled the new air; felt, with new, logical bodies, the heat of the wave as it passed.

Then it was gone. Within a second, the new world had grown to hundreds of thousands of kilometres in size; with each second that passed, it grew ever more. Before the four – or the thousands behind them, standing at the base of the ziggurat – had even blinked, their home had attained a magnitude so stupendously large, the units of its measurement would not be conceived for several thousand more years.

Stunned by the weight of what they had attained, the multitudes stood. Nobody spoke, nobody moved, nobody dared to shatter the newfound sensation that pervaded around them. Minutes passed as the congregation revelled in the feelings the new world afforded them, feelings that, despite the infinite possibilities of the world before, had always been impossible; the feeling of constancy, and silence.

For the first time, nothing changed.

The thud marked the completion of the gemstone’s labours – even within its prison, Apakht strove to cause change. But this was its final independent act, its final change, the final, futile resistance it could muster. Cautious to not undo their work, the four lifted the obsidian from the brickwork of the ziggurat’s peak. The key within its northern pole slid out without resistance; the wielder turned, showing it to those below.

There was but another moment’s silence before their cries filled the night, as joyful tears rained upon Mesopotamic sands.

‘How go the fields?’

The man’s younger brother, seated beside him on the ziggurat steps, shielded his eyes from the emerging sunlight. For the sixty-seventh time, the city sprawled around the construct was illuminated by the light of the new world.

‘Many of the crops are wilting. Nothing can be done to stop them.’

‘Unadjusted, do you think?’

‘I assume so. Whatever survives, thrives; even the weeds, which are many in number now. Fortunately, some seem to be edible.’

‘I must try them myself.’

‘You know you cannot. You must keep away from the fields.’

The man clenched his fist. He yearned to return to the practices of his youth, to feel the crops and soil within his hands once again – but Apakht, ever spiteful of its jailors, had cursed him from it, and continued to curse the land he walked. Now, he could only till barren, useless soil – if, in his malnourished state, he could till at all.

‘Even if for a moment, I wish to see one.’

‘I’ll retrieve you a popular one. Bulbous thing, juices that sting when you bite it. Sharp taste.’

‘Interesting. Has it been named?’

‘Called “onions”, but I believe my name fits better.’

‘What, call them “Eabani” because they’re “sharp”?’

‘I meant the name I came up with. Name them after their taste.’

‘Which is?’


The man grinned, watching as his brother juggled a pure-black dagger in his hand. Eabani had never been concerned with fieldwork; he left those tasks to Arakur. Instead he focused on livestock – herding, feeding, nurturing… slaughtering. Ample to say, each brother fulfilled what the other could not.

The duality of their capabilities translated to their military positions, too; though Eabani could never stand the atmosphere nor size of a tactician’s tent, Arakur much preferred it – the front lines of a battle field were no place for a man such as him, but Eabani was a perfect fit in his stead.

But with each recount he heard, Arakur couldn’t help dreading the day when the veil of justification, silk-thin and dangerously taut, finally tore apart before Eabani. Just as it almost had in their childhood.

Eabani’s shrill whistle whipped Arakur back to reality. His eyes followed the dagger’s edge down the steps of the ziggurat to the unmistakeable figure approaching them. It was impossible to mistake them for anyone else – ignoring her unique, solidly muscular build, she was the only woman in all of Sumer that refused to wear clothing appropriate for her gender; rather than cover everything below her neck, she proudly wore nothing but the knee-length skirt that men wore.

‘How is she, Ninkigal?’ Arakur asked, sitting up.

‘How do you think, fool?’ Ninkigal spat. ‘Everything pains her. All the water she drinks comes straight back out, one way or another. She’s moved her hand though, so the worst must be passing.’

‘That is good. The others?’

‘Dead.’ She idly scratched her breast.

‘… all of them?

‘If they could, they did.’

Arakur covered his face with his hand. One would say they were lucky, being the only ones still linked to Apakht – the only four immortals in the new world. One would be wrong.

‘Eabani, Arakur,’ said a woman, emerging from the temple atop the ziggurat.

Ninkigal cleared her throat.

‘And you,’ the woman continued. ‘The council waits.’

Arakur couldn’t stand by himself; by the time he and Eabani had begun their ascent, Ninkigal had stomped beyond view.

The temple was far from majestic, but sufficed for its purpose; carved into the walls was the story of Sumer, tales of Apakht’s yoke, and soon the story of the guardians would be added. In the centre of the room was an engraved altar, around which the seven councilmen sat. Ninkigal, being the de facto leader of the guardians (Arakur was the official one), stood the closest to the altar; Arakur and Eabani stood behind her, to either side.

‘What,’ she snapped.

‘Do not speak to us like that,’ one of the councilmen said.

‘I will speak however I please.’

‘There are concerns,’ another councilman interrupted, ‘that Giringeme is not improving.’

‘I was with her. She is recovering.’

‘That is not what I meant.’

Arakur shifted.

‘She will tame her abilities once again, just as Arakur will.’

‘They are taking too long,’ snapped the man seated at the far left. ‘Do you know how long it has been?’

‘Sixty-seven days,’ Arakur responded; he was silence by the councilman’s glare.

Too long. Sixty-seven days of pestilence and death. And how many more days will it take, hmm? Another sixty-seven? Perhaps a hundred, or a thousand?’

The three councilmen seated beside him nodded.

‘And Arakur too? Shall it take him another hundred days to stop cursing the ground he walks upon?’

‘Careful with your words.’

‘“I will speak however I please,”’ he parroted. ‘The fields he visited have yet to recover; for all we know, they never will.’

‘And your solution?’

‘Sumer has endured them long enough.’

Slowly and methodically, Ninkigal cracked each and every joint in her beefy hands; the councilmen flinched at each noise. When she was done, she leaned over the altar, glaring at the man.

‘You would banish us, after what we have done? You would give us no choice but to leave our home?’

‘You already made your choice when you vol-’

The pristine surface of the altar gave way beneath Ninkigal’s might; large fissures branched out from where her fist, now embedded in a crater, had struck it. Like her fist, Ninkigal’s roaring voice shattered the man’s confidence.

‘That accursed prophecy chose us – it chose me, by name, before I was even born, and you dare – you, dare, to say I had a choice in it, before banishing me?’

The man, shrinking in his seat, shook his head.

‘N-not you. J-just Arakur and Giringeme. Y-’

Ninkigal’s fist rocketed forward, striking the councilman’s nose and breaking it. Had Arakur been any slower in restraining her arm, it would have gone much further. Satisfied, Ninkigal returned her bloodied hand to her side; Arakur turned away from the bleeding councilman, covering his mouth.

‘You all disgust me. I would rather be exiled than live under filth without gratitude nor honour.’

Eabani – who had remained wholly motionless during Ninkigal’s attack – grinned at the injured councilman.

‘My loyalty is to my kin; I will go with my brother.’

The council made no attempt to stop the three from leaving.

By the time the sixty-eighth dawn washed down the eastern face of the ziggurat, the four guardians were prepared to enter exile. They had no plans for where they would travel, nor which direction they would go; their departure through the now-open west city gate was arbitrary, chosen only to escape the fortified walls surrounding the city.

The only empathy they had been afforded was time to collect their belongings, and a donation of a donkey for each to ride – save for the council, watching from afar, none of the city’s inhabitants dared to emerge. They were too fearful of Giringeme’s pestilence, or Ninkigal’s wrath.

Eabani, however, was worried about neither. Already fully prepared, his donkey awaited as he assisted Giringeme to do the same. She was still far from healthy; even beneath her full-body sheepskin dress, she shivered, coughed and winced. The fact she could walk was all the council needed to justify sending her off with the others, stating she was fit and well enough to travel – the same went for Arakur.

Seated beside his donkey, he struggled to eat his specially-prepared steak. Despite the unbearable hunger and Eabani’s best efforts to cook the stake to Arakur’s preference – overcooked and charred, assuring a total lack of juices – he still retched after each swallow. He hoped to eventually adjust to his new diet, but suspected it would be an impossibility.

As he watched, a different impossibility became real; retrieving a loaf of bread from her pack, Arakur watched as Ninkigal approached the senator she had punched the day prior. He expected her to hit him with the loaf, but instead, she offered it to him. They briefly shook hands, then Ninkigal returned to the group.

‘Are we ready?’ she asked Eabani.

‘We are,’ Eabani responded. ‘I have the lock, and Arakur has the key.’

‘Good. We leave immediately.’

Arakur discarded the steak and used his donkey to stand before mounting it. He herded it to Giringeme’s left; with Eabani on the right, they could both catch her if she fell. Ninkigal wasted no time on the others, immediately steering her ride towards and through the gate.

The four who had heralded this new age, the ones who had finally banished Apakht from the universe and brought about the new world, passed through the town gates without fanfare nor joy. The air was silent, and none of the townspeople dared disturb it; they kept within their homes until the west gates were once again closed.

The four horsemen departed from the city, heading beyond the boundaries of Sumer, knowing they would never again return.

It wasn’t until night had fallen, and the first camp of their endless journey was complete, did they exchange their first words since departing.

‘Ninkigal,’ Giringeme croaked, shivering on a blanket beside the fire.


‘Of everything… you did… today…’

‘Yes, what?

‘… why did you… rub bread… on my face?’

Arakur turned to Ninkigal; she grinned.

‘No reason in particular.’

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